A Threat to the Existing Social Order

From Robert Tracinski:

[The controversy about Scott Walker] isn’t really about Scott Walker’s qualifications. It’s about something deeper.

On the surface, of course, it’s certainly about Scott Walker. The left-leaning mainstream media senses that he’s a potential danger. After all, he has won three straight elections in a swing state, while challenging the public employees’ unions head-on and significantly reducing their government privileges. (This is precisely what makes him interesting to those of us on the right.) The mainstream media feel that they need to disqualify him now, so they’re looking for anything they can use against him.

But behind that, there is a more visceral reaction. The real purpose of higher education is to learn the knowledge and skills required for success later in life. So if someone has already become a success, whether or not he went to college is irrelevant. If he has achieved the end, what does it matter that he didn’t do it by way of that specific means? But for the mainstream elites, particularly those at the top level in the media, a college education is not simply a means to an end. It is itself a key attainment that confers a special social status.

There are no real class divisions in America except one: the college-educated versus the non-college educated. It helps to think of this in terms borrowed from the world of a Jane Austen novel: graduating from college is what makes you a “gentleman.” (A degree from an Ivy League school makes you part of the aristocracy.) It qualifies you to marry the right people and hold the right kind of positions. It makes you respectable. And even if you don’t achieve much in the world of work and business, even if you’re still working as a barista ten years later, you still retain that special status. It’s a modern form of “genteel poverty,” which is considered superior to the regular kind of poverty.

If you don’t have a college degree, by contrast, you are looked down upon as a vulgar commoner who is presumptuously attempting to rise above his station. Which is pretty much what they’re saying about Scott Walker. This prejudice is particularly strong when applied to anyone from the right, whose retrograde views are easily attributed to his lack of attendance at the gentleman’s finishing school that is the university.

That brings us to the heart of the matter. I have observed before that left-leaning politics has become “part of the cultural class identity of college-educated people,” a prejudice that lingers long after they have graduated. You can see how this goes the other way, too. If to be college-educated is to have left-leaning views—then to have the “correct” political values, one must be college-educated.

You can see now what is fueling the reaction on the left. If Scott Walker can run for president, he is challenging the basic cultural class identity of the mainstream left. He is more than a threat to the Democrats’ hold on political power. He is a threat to the existing social order.

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Strategic Paralysis

From Charles Krauthammer:

His secretary of defense says “the world is exploding all over.” His attorney general says that the threat of terror “keeps me up at night.” The world bears them out. On Tuesday, American hostage Kayla Mueller is confirmed dead. On Wednesday, the U.S. evacuates its embassy in Yemen, cited by President Obama last September as an American success in fighting terrorism.

Yet Obama’s reaction to, shall we say, turmoil abroad has been one of alarming lassitude and passivity.

Not to worry, says his national security adviser: This is not World War II. As if one should be reassured because the current chaos has yet to achieve the level of the most devastating conflict in human history. Indeed, insists the president, the real source of our metastasizing anxiety is . . . the news media.

Russia pushes deep into eastern Ukraine. The Islamic State burns to death a Jordanian pilot. Iran extends its hegemony over four Arab capitals — Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, and now Sanaa.

And America watches. Obama calls the policy “strategic patience.” That’s a synonym for “inaction,” made to sound profoundly “strategic.”

Take Russia. The only news out of Obama’s one-hour press conference with Angela Merkel this week was that he still can’t make up his mind whether to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons. The Russians have sent in T-80 tanks and Grad rocket launchers. We’ve sent in humanitarian aid that includes blankets, MREs, and psychological counselors.

How complementary: The counselors do grief therapy for those on the receiving end of the T-80 tank fire. “I think the Ukrainian people can feel confident that we have stood by them,” said Obama at the news conference.

Indeed. And don’t forget the blankets. America was once the arsenal of democracy, notes Elliott Abrams. We are now its linen closet.

Why no anti-tank and other defensive weapons? Because we are afraid that arming the victim of aggression will anger the aggressor.

Such on-the-ground appeasement goes well with the linguistic appeasement whereby Obama dares not call radical Islam by name. And whereby both the White House and State Department spend much of a day insisting that the attack on the kosher grocery in Paris had nothing to do with Jews. It was just, as the president said, someone “randomly shoot[ing] a bunch of folks in a deli.” (By the end of the day, the administration backed off this idiocy. By tweet.)

This passivity — strategic, syntactical, ideological — is more than just a reaction to the perceived overreach of the Bush years. Or a fear of failure. Or bowing to the domestic Left. It is, above all, rooted in Obama’s deep belief that we — America, Christians, the West — lack the moral authority to engage, to project, i.e., to lead.

Before we condemn the atrocities of others, intoned Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast, we shouldn’t “get on our high horse.” We should acknowledge having authored the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, etc. “in the name of Christ.”

In a rare rhetorical feat, Obama managed to combine the banal and the repulsive. After all, is it really a revelation that all religions have transgressed, that man is fallen? To the adolescent Columbia undergrad, that’s a profundity. To a roomful of faith leaders, that’s an insult to one’s intelligence.

And in deeply bad taste. A coalition POW is burned alive and the reaction of the alliance leader barely 48 hours later is essentially: “Hey, but what about Joan of Arc?”

Obama’s Christians-have-sinned dismissal of the West’s moral standing is not new, however. It is just a reprise of the theme of his post-inauguration 2009 confessional world tour. From Strasbourg to Cairo and the U.N. General Assembly, he indicted his own country, as I chronicled at the time, “for arrogance, for dismissiveness and derisiveness (toward Europe), for maltreatment of natives, for torture, for Hiroshima, for Guantánamo, for unilateralism, and for insufficient respect for the Muslim world.”

The purpose and the effect of such an indictment is to undermine any moral claim to American world leadership. The line between the Washington prayer breakfast and the Ukrainian grief counselors is direct and causal. Once you’ve discounted your own moral authority, once you’ve undermined your own country’s moral self-confidence, you cannot lead.

If, during the very week Islamic supremacists achieve “peak barbarism” with the immolation of a helpless prisoner, you cannot take them on without apologizing for sins committed a thousand years ago, you have prepared the ground for strategic paralysis.

All that’s left is to call it strategic patience.

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The Ultimate Self-Referential Presidency

From Bret Stephens:

George Washington did not shake hands as president and would grip the hilt of his sword to avoid having his flesh pressed. The founding father understood that leadership in a republic demanded a careful balance between low populism and aristocratic lordliness. Personal comportment, the choice of clothes and carriage, modes of address: these things mattered. And so we have “Mr. President” as opposed to “His Highness.” Or “George.”

With Barack Obama —you won’t mind, Señor Presidente, if we call you Barry?—it’s another story. Dignity of office? How quaint. In this most self-infatuated of presidencies, the D-word is at best an accessory and more often an impediment to everything Barry has ever wanted to be: Cool. Chill. Connected.

So it was that, hours after the U.S. confirmed the murder of Kayla Jean Mueller at the hands of Islamic State, Mr. Obama filmed a short video for BuzzFeed, striking poses in a mirror, donning aviator shades, filming himself with a selfie stick and otherwise inhabiting a role that a chaster version of Miley Cyrus might have played had Hannah Montana been stuck in the White House after a sleepover with the Obama girls.

Ostensibly, the point of the video was to alert BuzzFeed’s audience to the Feb. 15 deadline for ObamaCare enrollment. If communicating with 20-somethings as if they are 11-year-olds is a way to get them to behave like grown-ups, then maybe the White House has at last found a way to make good on its make-believe enrollment numbers.

But that’s not what the BuzzFeed clip is chiefly about. What it’s about is showing just how totally relatable and adorably authentic and marvelously self-aware is this president of ours. “Can I live?” the president says when caught shooting imaginary hoops in his study by a young visitor. “You do you,” the visitor gamely replies before walking off.

Yes, you do you, Barry: It’s what your political career has always been about, from your myth-memoir “Dreams From My Father” to your well-nurtured cult of personality to the coterie of flatterers with whom you have surrounded yourself in office to the supine and occasionally complicit news media that have seen you through six years of crisis, failure and scandal.

“You do you” is the ultimate self-referential slogan for the ultimate self-referential presidency. It’s the “be yourself” piety of our age turned into a political license by Mr. Obama to do as he pleases. It’s what drives his political choices: the immigration amnesty; arbitrary rewrites of the Affordable Care Act; the Environmental Protection Agency’s coal rules; the $128 billion in settlements the administration extorted from six banks convicted of no wrongdoing.

It is also what seems to explain the president’s insistently passive foreign policy. In its 2015 National Security Strategy, unveiled earlier this month, the administration underscored the importance of what it called “strategic patience,” a high-toned euphemism for doing as little as decently possible in response to crisis. Invade Ukraine: You do you, Vladimir Putin. Build a robust nuclear infrastructure: You do you, Ali Khamenei. Continue gassing your own people: You do you, Bashar Assad.

In other words, let 1,000 you-do-yous bloom. In the end, the president and his advisers seem to believe, events will take their course and history will provide its verdict. Kremlin adventurism will fall afoul of Russia’s economic limits, Iran will evolve from evil theocracy to responsible regional player, and Syria will continue to bleed until it sorts itself out.

As for Islamic State, the president told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that “it has no governing strategy,” that it cannot “sustain or feed people or educate people or organize a society that would work,” and therefore that it is not “an existential threat to the United States or the world order.”

You do you, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi! But if you can’t provide your people with high-quality affordable health care, world-class educational opportunities and a decent minimum wage, it will all come to naught.

There’s a sense in which the president’s foreign policy reminds me of Francis Fukuyama ’s “End of History” thesis, though it is typically associated with American neoconservatives. Following the publication of Mr. Fukuyama’s book in the early 1990s, the argument was attacked for ignoring all the history—the breakup of Yugoslavia, genocide in Rwanda, and so on—that continued to take place after he had declared it over.

Mr. Fukuyama’s rebuttal was that none of that really counted, at least in the dialectical, Hegelian, capital-H sense of “History.” History had ended because there was no plausible ideological competitor to liberal, democratic capitalism, and sooner or later everyone would get the point.

Maybe that’s even true. Yet in the words “sooner or later” lie the great political questions of our day, matters of life or death for the Ukrainian soldiers encircled by Russian troops, or Western hostages held by Islamic State, or everyone threatened by Iran’s slow and steady march toward regional hegemony.

President You Do You has all the time he wants to film BuzzFeed clips while surfing the arc of history. Not everyone is so fortunate.

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Autism, Measles, and the Anti-Vaccine Movement

From Thomas Sowell:

The current controversy over whether parents should be forced to have their children vaccinated for measles is one of the painful signs of our times. Measles was virtually wiped out in the United States, years ago. Why the resurgence of this disease now?

The short answer is that false claims, based on other false claims, led many parents to stop getting their children vaccinated against measles.

The key false claim was that the vaccine for measles caused an increase in autism. This claim was made in 1998 by a doctor writing in a distinguished British medical journal, so it is understandable that many parents took it seriously, and did not want to run the risk of having their child become autistic.

Fortunately, others took the claim seriously in a very different sense. They did massive studies involving half a million children in Denmark and two million children in Sweden. These studies showed that there was no higher incidence of autism among children who had been vaccinated than among children who had not been vaccinated.

Incidentally, the “evidence” on which the original claim that vaccines caused autism was based was just 12 children. But the campaign to convince the public was a masterpiece of propaganda.

The story line was that pharmaceutical companies who produced the vaccine were callously risking and sacrificing helpless children in pursuit of profit. This is the kind of dramatic stuff the media love. It never seemed to occur to the media that lawyers who were suing pharmaceutical companies had a vested interest in this story line that the media fed on to the public.

Unfortunately, it takes time to run careful scientific studies, involving vast numbers of children in different countries. That allowed the propaganda against vaccines to go on for years. Eventually, however, the results of the studies so completely discredited the claim that the measles vaccine caused autism that the medical journal which had published the article publicly repudiated it. The doctor who wrote the article had his license revoked.

By this time, however, there was a whole anti-vaccine movement, and crusading movements are seldom stopped by facts.

This was not the only false claim involved. What made that claim seem plausible was a highly publicized increase in the number of children diagnosed as being autistic or being “on the autism spectrum.”

What was not so widely publicized was that the definition of “autism” had expanded over the years to include children who would never have been called autistic by the standards set up when autism was defined by its discoverer, Professor Leo Kanner of the Johns Hopkins medical school, back in 1943.

Professor Kanner fought against the expansion of the definition of autism but, after his death, the definition continued to expand — and the number of children who met the expanded definition greatly increased.

There were financial incentives for this expansion. Late-talking children, for example, could get government programs to pay for their treatment if they were designated as autistic or on the autism spectrum.

Despite headlines and hysteria about skyrocketing numbers of children diagnosed as autistic, the number of children who meet the original definition of autism has been relatively stable in recent years, at about one quarter of one percent of all children, according to Professor Stephen Camarata of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in his recent book, “Late-Talking Children.”

It may be significant that the number of children regarded as mentally retarded has fallen by numbers similar to the rise in the number of children regarded as autistic. According to Professor Camarata, “This too suggests that changes in definitions and in diagnostic practices are contributing to the perceived ‘epidemic’ of autism.”

Does this mean that vaccines are safe? In a categorical sense, nothing on the face of the earth is 100 percent safe — including going unvaccinated. But the claim that vaccines cause autism has been discredited by evidence.

Some say the decision to vaccinate or not should be the parents’ choice. That would be fine if their child would live isolated from other children. But that is impossible.

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Jindal to Obama: “The Medieval Christian Threat Is under Control”

From Eliana Johnson:

Bobby Jindal on Friday released a statement responding to the president’s remarks on Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast in which he cautioned Americans from getting on a “high horse” when taking a stance against radical Islam because people have committed “terrible deeds” in the name of Christianity, too.

“It was nice of the President to give us a history lesson at the Prayer breakfast,” Jindal said. “Today, however, the issue right in front of his nose, in the here and now, is the terrorism of Radical Islam, the assassination of journalists, the beheading and burning alive of captives. We will be happy to keep an eye out for runaway Christians, but it would be nice if he would face the reality of the situation today. The Medieval Christian threat is under control, Mr. President. Please deal with the Radical Islamic threat today.”

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